I have never been particularly fond of stage thrillers. Perhaps this is because I’m so easily frightened. Maybe it’s because I’m a laugh-a-minute sort of guy. Thrillers won’t exactly give you that. But the Murder Mystery and the Psychological Thriller are difficult for me to get worked up about.
The play I attended this past evening, “Night Must Fall” offered by Lima’s Amil Tellers of Dramatics, unfortunately falls into this category. But I am also familiar with the talents of both cast and directors, and could not wait to watch this mystery unfold. And it wasn’t a great mystery as to who done it, the early betting being laid on one particular character, but after all, it’s about the game, isn’t it?
Someone has killed and beheaded a local woman and has thrown her into the nearby forest. The owner of the mansion which is the focal point, is an older lady, Mrs. Bramson who treats her help and her niece, Olivia Grayne, as mere tools for her amusement. Into the house comes a seeming ne’er-do-well, Dan, a man who has managed to bring the housemaid into the “Family Way”. He swiftly inserts himself into Mrs. Bramson’s good graces, and creates suspicion in the minds of everyone else.
“Night Must Fall”, penned by Emlyn Williams was first produced in London in May, 1935. It was so successful (400+ runs), that it was brought to New York in 1936. The run was not near as long in the U.S., but the show did spawn several full-length films. It has since become a staple of the Community Theatre world.
In addition to the three central characters I have mentioned, there are a cook, Mrs. Terrance, the maid, Dora, a suitor for Olivia, Mr. Hubert Laurie, Mrs. Bramson’s nurse, Libby, and the police inspector, Belsize.
Let me say, first, that the decision to produce a play which is peopled by the Brits, is that they talk like Brits. You have a choice to do away with the accents, altogether, or use them, often getting a hodgepodge of interpretations, most of which, come and go, as the evening wears on. Director George Dunster made the choice, a good one, I believe, to use accents wherever possible. With the expected varying degrees of success. The cast, top-to-bottom was not entirely consistent with their dialects, but, on the whole, was pretty darn good. Doug Norton, who played a deep, dark, and damaged Dan, was very tight with his speeches. I did not hear many slips from him. His happy-go-lucky attitude and fawning manner suited the frightening Dan very well. This is the second time we have seen him in this type of role, and he is pretty darn creepy.
An easily hate-able character was Mrs. Bramson, who bullied and brow-beat all around her. She had her own secrets to keep, and Aimee Bucher, a much younger and nicer person, by the way, kept her secrets, playing her self-absorbed fussiness to the limit. I mentioned afterward, the audience was really hoping for her to be the next victim.
Veteran Ambyr Rose gave us an extremely thoughtful, yet vulnerable Olivia. She was never “too much” but had the audience rooting for her. Her one on one scenes with Norton had palpable tension. It was something of a surprise when she succumbed to the seduction of Dan, but Ambyr made us believe it.
Jeff Kerr was Hubert, the constant visitor, begging for the hand of Olivia. Kerr is easy and fluid, on-stage, growing on the audience by the second. We all had that nagging question lingering, “Why doesn’t Olivia want the nice, stable guy, instead of being drawn to the bad boy. I guess that’s it. Women love bad boys. So Hubert loses out, but certainly not because Kerr didn’t make him likeable.
I got a huge charge out of Laura Dunster as Mrs. Terrance. Her put-upon cook gave Mrs. Bramson all the guff she deserved. Her accent was perfect, and she let he boss have it at every turn. Dunster is a long-term talent who adds something to every part she is handed.
Mike Gegel, who has given Encore several of his children for the plays, showed us an energetic and, sometimes menacing, Inspector Belsize. He had the most difficulty with the accent, but he made up for it with his imposing size, and his enthusiasm.
Somewhat lesser roles were given to Sarah Bennett as the nurse, and Ashley Shank as Dora, the maid. Each had their moments, Bennett with some humorous looks and remarks, and Shank, shamed by the level to which she has fallen. Her scream was pretty good, too.
I loved the choices for pre-show and intermission interludes. They struck the right spot for me. I was even whistling along with “Bolero” which didn’t make my audience neighbors happy with me. As usual the team of Director George Dunster, and Asssistant Deb Duncan Faul had their cast ready with the proper movement and line interpretation. In this, they are successful, yet again. The costumes were appropriate and added to the time setting. I loved two other things. The lighting design By Julie Kerr and the set, designed by Paul Rizor, were both wonderful. Good touches were everywhere.